Story Starters—A Deck of Cards for the Young Imagination

In our book Imagination First, Eric Liu and I write about Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards created by musician Brian Eno in 1975: “Each of the over one hundred cards contains what Eno calls ‘a worthwhile dilemma’—a concise, cryptic prompt….meant to give direction.” Today, I bring news of another novel deck of cards, this one aimed at children: the Spark Your Imagination Story Starters.

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Robots, Learning, and Play

Here’s an imaginative idea: Latitude, an international research consultancy, asked 348 children around the world, “What if robots were a part of your everyday life—at school and beyond?” The kids were to answer in the form of an illustrated short story. Now the results of the Robots @ School study are in, and they reveal what today’s young people think and feel about learning and technology.

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Space for Imagination, Creativity, and Innovation

Image by Junyu Wang*

Just over a month ago, Tony DeRose, lead of the Research Group at Pixar Animation Studios, gave an inspiring presentation at Lincoln Center Institute’s Imagination Summit in New York City. Now, Fast Company’s Co.Design website has published an article identifying the physical environment of Pixar as an example for schools to follow.

“We can no longer afford to…design schoolhouses the way we used to if we’re to maintain a competitive edge,” say authors Steven Turckes and Melanie Kahl. “In looking at various exemplary workplaces…we can glean valuable lessons about effective educational approaches and the spaces that support them.”

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What We Learn from Animals: How to Play

Image by Steve Jurvetson*

In a January 21 Huffington Post entry, Brenda Peters writes of important lessons gleaned from the animal world: play in order to thrive.

Peters, who has studied wild dolphins, writes that in play, dolphins learn essential survival and relationship skills. Rats apparently laugh more readily than humans (see the video). In some species, the absence of play could signify that an individual is in psychological distress (see this brief article about chimpanzees from the Jane Goodall Institute). Scientists theorize that individuals who play the most are most instrumental in advancing the evolution of their species (read more in the preface to this book). And in play, both animals and humans let down their guard and take risks—opening themselves up to grow and love and learn, and sometimes opening themselves to real physical danger or loss.

“Play doesn’t end in childhood or in the animal kingdom,” writes Peters. “Play is also about developing a lifelong imagination that is flexible and responsive to one’s environment. True play calls forth from us, animals and humans alike, the highest creativity and inventiveness.” For Peters, to be visionary requires a sense of infinite possibility that may be nurtured in play. Check out her full post here.

Click here to watch a video presentation by Stuart L. Brown, author of National Geographic’s “Animals at Play.”

*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

School’s Out for Summer

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Image by Pawel Loj*

In “Untapped Creativity Needs Instruction That’s Engaging,” an August 19 commentary piece for the Toledo Blade, Marilou Johanek discusses Camp Invention, a program of Invent Now Kids. The camp is “geared to promoting … creativity in primary education” and includes activities such as taking apart old appliances to build new inventions, making an imaginary city more environmentally sound, and figuring out how to survive on an unknown planet called Zak. Johanek sometimes worries that school curricula designed solely to boost standardized test scores do not give students opportunities to stretch their imaginations and creativity. But at Camp Invention, it is precisely “[t]hrough imaginative play [that campers] are exposed to curricula aligned with state and national standards.” This approach seems to balance imaginative learning with accountability—just the sort of balance that we at Lincoln Center Institute advocate. It ensures that young people learn the basics they may be tested on, but does so without limiting their personal exploratory freedom. It is likely that participants in this kind of program will be better prepared for their futures as adults: the combination of knowledge and self-directed discovery that the camp fosters is an asset to any effective leader, decision-maker, or citizen.

There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

Beyond the Monkey Bars

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Image by Elizabeth Albert*

To any parent who’s ever wished that their child’s experience at the local playground could be a little more meaningful, Imagination Playground comes as a welcome surprise. Roger Clark of NY1 reports that the first Imagination Playground Park, designed by high-profile architect David Rockwell, opened on July 27 in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport area. So what makes this space different from the traditional model that includes swings, slides, see-saws, and so on? The three features that set Imagination Playground apart are: loose parts (movable objects that enable children to build imaginatively); a manipulable environment (one equipped with raw materials, like sand and water, which prompt creativity); and Play Associates (trained adults who supervise and encourage children’s activities).

The thinking behind this experiment is that mental exercise is just as important for kids as its physical counterpart; imaginative play and collaborative play develop the young mind in several positive ways—as LCI’s teaching artists would be the first to testify. From Imagination Playground’s press kit: “Research shows that children at the age of eight who have experienced varied and challenging play are considerably better prepared to benefit from ongoing formal education.” So if you’re a New York City resident who’s in town this summer, lure your children away from the video game console and offer them a new kind of adventure. Take a field trip to Imagination Playground, located on John Street between Front and South Streets. Let them be the masters of their own game. And if you’re not in NYC, sit tight: Rockwell Group and KaBOOM!, the two organizations behind this new and exciting concept, are now looking at potential sites across America.

*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

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